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pdt11 • 13 years ago

The "Parent-Trigger" Opportunity

As the Organizing Director for Parent Revolution I’d like to respond to some of the suggestions that this is an ‘astroturf’ organization. I’ve been here for six months and that has nothing in common with the reality that I have experienced and helped build in that time.

My first organizing ‘training’ was in the mass movements of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s but formal Alinsky community style and related labor training followed. The foundation that I’ve never really veered from came, however, between ’76 and ’78 in the Imperial , Salinas and Pajaro valleys with the UFW. Leadership identification and development, building of small self-sustaining leadership groups, an emphasis on horizontal relationships (rather than e.g. with the organizer) all built around a belief in the necessary and transformative effect of collective struggle. That, to me, is the essence of organizing.

I’ve certainly experienced other models over the decades, from affinity groups to the broad but shallow styles of many issue based campaigns, but when possible I believe in sticking to the basics outlined above. During nearly two years with the Obama campaign this is the model that a number of us in the senior field staff tried, with some success, to bring to that effort. This is the model, complete with ‘one on one’s’, house meetings, Marshal Ganz’s famous ‘public narrative’ methodology that we are deploying in Compton and elsewhere in California and it is working as it always does when people have issues, see the possibility for change and are willing to becoming actors in shaping their own future. Not astro turf.

I dealt with the whole “agents of corporate privatization” line of attack before taking this job because I – like most of your readers – had heard all of these rumors and formulations. So some of my questions prior to taking this job were:

Q: “Is Parent Revolution an arm of Green Dot charter schools?”

A: Nope, it started that way (as the Los Angeles Parents Union) but declared financial and political independence around the end of 2009 – and I personally didn’t even meet a Green Dot person until I’d been here for 4 months, and that was a social occasion. Steve Barr (of Green Dot) had been the Chair of the Board but I’ve never met him and he resigned a few months ago – to be replaced by the Rev. K.W. Tulloss of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

Q: “Is Parent Revolution all about charter schools?”

A: Nope. This would have been a deal breaker for me since I have no special affinity for charters. There are great charters, there are atrocious charters and there are lots in between (and that is why any talk of ‘average charter school performance’ is so tedious). Charters (good ones) simply cannot scale to address the educational needs of our communities and of all children. They can be a good solution in a particular situation and the great ones can point the way to what is possible but ultimately we only address the crisis in education by addressing numerous issues including funding, curriculum, certification, and those teachers’ union sacred cows that objectively get in the way of a better education for our children. Those are my views and those of this organization.

Q: “How about your funding sources?” “Any strings attached?”

A: Gates, Broad, Walton, Wasserman, Hewlett and a bunch of smaller ones. No strings attached. They like the parent trigger law, they like the direction of the organization and I can say with confidence that the only thing we have heard from funders since I’ve been here is “you guys are doing great”. No direction, no constraints etc. I’ve always understood why funding issues can be important (e.g. Russ Feingold refusing to take PAC money in order to expose the structural corruption of the electoral system) but more often the fetishization of funding sources strikes me as a mask for otherwise ineffectual work (“we don’t really do crap but our organization has never taken a dollar from anyone who uses fossil fuels!”). I rarely have a problem taking money from anyone for a good cause as long as there are no strings attached. If Bill Gates decided, as I did, to personally contribute to Sen. Feingold’s “Progressives United” I doubt that his contribution would be rejected (and if you, the reader, haven’t contributed please do so - failure on that issue could render much else trivial).

Q: “Are you anti teachers union?”

A: No. Not all of our staff have their roots in the labor movement but everyone supports the right of teachers to organize and bargain collectively. On day one of the recent demonstrations in Wisconsin we issued a statement in support of the teachers and other public workers and condemning Gov. Walker’s attack on collective bargaining - and that earned us a bit of heated feedback from people on the right who see us in the same caricatured light as our left critics. The problem is that unions are not always immune to the temptations of acting against the public interest. Imagine if Police or Nurses unions made it as hard to identify and deal with bad employees as the teachers unions do. As someone familiar with both of those groups I suspect that the employees themselves would not stand for it much less the affected public. [shortly after I drafted this response Randi Weingarten of AFT took a remarkably brave step towards addressing this issue and she deserves unqualified praise for doing so].

The reasons might lie in the isolated nature of the teaching profession (they are surrounded by kids but work alone) or maybe member engagement is so low that bargaining is only driven by those with the most to worry about, but the fact is that intolerable levels of incompetence are permitted in an otherwise excellent profession and this has life threatening consequences for children.

Teaching has gotten both a whole lot harder and more consequential in the last generation but we are going to have a tough time properly elevating the profession as long as the worst performers are held by the system to be at least as valuable as the best. I have a lot of teachers in my immediate and extended family. Some are fantastic while others should really avoid shaping young minds. The problem with those who automatically reject this kind of criticism as “teacher bashing” is that nearly every man, woman and child in America knows the truth from personal experience. Consequently if the teachers’ unions tie themselves to the position that bad teachers are not a serious problem they erode support for the profession and for the labor movement.

I think that deals with the usual caricature of Parent Revolution from left critics but there are a few things that I’d like to add:

The Parent Trigger law is a mandate to organize. It is an imperfect law, the regulations are still under discussion and there are risks associated with its implementation but for Gods’ sake it actually creates structural incentives for poor people to organize and achieve actual power in their communities. Are we so far away from successful grassroots work that our first reaction to the law is, to quote the California Teachers Associations chief spokesman, that it is a “Lynch Mob Law”? If the first instinct of the left when presented with organizing opportunities is to fear that the right might take advantage of them it is no wonder that the grassroots response to the greatest economic crisis of our lifetimes has been dominated by the tea party. This is pathetic.

Our organizing plan for the next year (which I happily share with our prospective opponents) is not centered on charter conversion (or even the other 'trigger' options) although odds are that in cases where parents see no alternative they will opt for some of those. Rather we see the credible threat of such an action as a tremendous boon to parents’ ability to bargain for better educational opportunities – perhaps in alliance with concerned teachers or administrators. The current configuration whereby educational policy and practice are determined by a balance of power between respective union and district bureaucracies cannot be trusted to deal with what is surely a crisis. We believe that the addition of a third force, organized parents at the local level – people who certainly have the educational needs of their children foremost in their minds – can yield both immediate gains and provide longer term opportunities to get out of this mess.

Lastly, I believe that organizing around our children’s futures is an opportunity to bridge gaps in our social fabric that are rapidly becoming unbridgeable chasms. This is not the place to go into depth on this subject but the accelerating class divide (the primary but not the sole fragmenting force) is making it difficult for people to see their fates as linked together.

As so many of us saw during the Obama campaign Americans are hungry for unity and yet that unity eludes us as structural (and other) forces drive us apart. While it may be difficult to bridge the interest gap between a middle class suburb and a poor inner city community in the here and now it may be more possible to do so in those communities’ common dreams of the America that their children will inherit – including an educated citizenry.

Public recognition of the crisis in education is at an all-time high. We desperately need the unity to address the very daunting obstacles to solving this crisis (and the related one of what the successfully educated will then do for work) the current posture of most teachers unions towards needed reforms is not helping. It is an illusion to think that unity will emerge by inviting parents or citizens to simply demand bigger education budgets. In my experience people organize first around pressing issues directly in front of them – and for many parents that happens to be district or teacher incompetence, lack of security, poor instruction etc. Their need is urgent and will be expressed in ways that are more or less constructive. All of the actors in this arena must choose how to deal with this growing wave of sentiment. We have chosen to work with it, help it, and try to channel it in constructive ways that satisfy the educational needs of all children.

jcgrim • 13 years ago



"In what will likely go down in corporate ed reform history as the Compton Caper, the otherwise disgusting LATimes is reporting that Compton parents are coming forward with allegations of strong-arming and deception by Parent Revolution to get enough signatures to charterize a public school that has recently demonstrated strong improvement on state test scores."


"In April, 1999, the Wall Street financiers at Merrill Lynch published a 193 page “In-depth Report” titled “The Book of Knowledge, Investing in the Growing Education and Training Industry.” Early in the report they noted: “The K-12 market is the largest segment of the education industry with approximately $360 billion spent annually or over $6,500 per year per child. Despite the size, the K-12 market is the most problematic to invest in today. Entrenched bureaucracies and personal and political interests contribute to the challenges facing this sector.”

jcgrim • 13 years ago

parent trigger= astroturfing theme for privatizers

This article tells the back story of the so-called public ed reform movement. It's sad and tragic that the billionaire boys club has cast this as a fight to "save poor kids" when they really mean PROFITS.


debaser71 • 13 years ago

don't be fooled by the right

don't be fooled by the right wing assholes who hate public education.,..charter schools and vouchers do nothing but funnel away from public school money to religious indocrination

stop falling for it

religion is a scam, jesus is a myth, and god is just pretend

ysbaddaden • 13 years ago


But then I was thinking one day just how much in common me and my kid sister have..

Pashovski • 13 years ago

TY Jon

Parent Revolution, the faux-grassroots organization behind the “parent trigger” in California is merely a disingenuous disguise for Green Dot Charter boss-man Steve Barr.

Powkat • 13 years ago

One More Atttack on the Commons

Public schools and mandatory attendance was used a tool in ending child labor. There has always been a portion of the right that opposed free public education, mostly on the basis of 'why should I have to pay for some other kid's education.' But the latest attacks are more specific - the want to turn the schools into religious schools, with prayer, 'intelligent design' or get rid of them entirely - charter schools and vouchers are the tools they are using. If we really cared about public schools we wouldn't NEED charter schools, because all schools would be wonderful forums for child development and scholastic excellence.

For years I have asked conservatives I have met why, since they claim to be in love with democracy when they are opposed to the the two most democratic public institutions we have: public schools and public libraries. They have never been able to give me a coherent answer, and now I see why. They don't love democracy - they love power and authoritarianism and hate democracy. An educated populace is a threat and a rebuke to their simplistic view of life - cognitive dissonance rules and the rest of us suffer.

Enough! It is time for revolution, time to throw off the ruling class and take back the power for ourselves.

I wish we could pull off a national strike, but I don't see it happening - so smaller actions must suffice.

Robert D. Skeels, JD, Esq • 13 years ago

Austin is a pariah in Los Angeles, as is his astroturf group

I've been writing about Ben Austin for years. There is no more appropriate place for him to be featured than on the Crooks and Liars site.

Here's some more insight on the man behind the corporate charter trigger law.

Political Patronage for Green Dot Public Schools’ Chief Propagandist

Code Words and Green Dot’s Pandering to Westside Racism

Ben Austin: The Six Figure Salary Man - Green Dot

Parent Revolution (neé Los Angeles Parents Union) was originally chaired by Green Dot's Steve Barr and funded by Green Dot as well. Around July 2010 Green Dot stopped supporting Parent Revolution financially, and about two months ago Austin deposed Barr and placed charter advocacy employee K.W. Tulloss of Families That Can in Parent Revolution's board chair position. Green Dot's Marco Petruzzi and Steve Barr still sit on Parent Revolution's board though.

professerf • 13 years ago

Jimmy can't read...

"Jimmy can't read because Jimmy don't give a care whether he can read or not." Its from a Jerry Clower story and Jerry goes on to explain that then the parents look for some one to blame for his failure because it couldn't possibly be the fact that parents took no interest in how seriously Jimmy took his education. Then again Jerry was from a time when unions were stronger and a forty hour single income was enough for a family to get by. Not live high on the hog but get by and have left for family matters. Today people go to college and end up with three part jobs paying off a loan and still eligible for government assistance... if they can jump through all the hoops. Where has time gone for family unless you're a member of the well-to-do few? On top of that you have bully banks holding your head under water, idealog school boards diluting education or sport fanatics disregarding it, a private prison system swallows children for the most minuscule transgressions and trains them to be criminals in a heartless, joyless abandonment, throw in addiction, abuse, exploitation, lack of true mentors... What hope? Jerry was very poor as youth but had a vision of a brighter future for himself and a bulldog determination. Today once a child is swallowed by the system it seems they think they only have three options; sports star, gangster, or gangster rapper. Maybe I'm jaded having worked in the private prison industry and maybe I'm not quite on topic or even fluid of thought, but the future is a great concern to me. I fear the results in a society that seems to be growing more Machiavellian and greedy by the day.

derekthered • 13 years ago

the hundred year war

against the public interest started before WWI; while some view the US ascendancy on the world scene as due to superior virtue, whether religious or political, the truth is probably more along the lines of superior firepower.

there is a reason to bring up our nations material success, as the way society goes, so goes the schools. when a population has no hope, interest in education declines along with morale. many parents are so beaten down that they do not instill hope or a desire to succeed in their children; this is certainly understandable, but is nevertheless tragic and self-defeating. if there is hope for our country it will come from people enduring hardship and struggle, and through the inculcation of a revolutionary spirit; gang-banging and dope smoking are not going to accomplish this necessary function.

of course the right-wing reactionary pukes want to destroy public education, it is after all the tenth point of the communist manifesto,

"Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production."

we wouldn't want any red influences on our children now would we?

this being said, this assault on public education is nothing more than capital's attempt to profit from one more aspect of american life. the other thing that cannot be ignored is the effect of fundamentalist religious beliefs on this subject, no matter of what persuasion, parents really want to indoctrinate their children in the superstitions that they prefer; needless to say, yours truly believes this to be against the public interest. i do not believe private schools, especially religious schools should be allowed, i believe all children should have to attend public school in order to combat superstition, prejudice, and the class system inherent in private schooling; at the very least private school curriculum should be subject to the approval of the proper authorities, if people wish to inculcate myths into their childrens minds they are free to do that at their favorite shrine to whatever imaginary being they believe rules over them.

i certainly do hope that i have conveyed enough radical notions here to keep the local minister, priest, rabbi, or imam apoplectic for a week; and the pukes too.

Bainbridge22 • 13 years ago

Charters can work, but the

Charters can work, but the majority of them are a method for skimming profits.

Lower grades are cheap...if a state pays $6,000 per year per student, clearly it doesn't cost $120,000 to run a classroom of first graders per year. On the other hand, at high school that $6,000 doesn't cover costs. On balance, it all works out.

But many charters focus on lower elementary, and they exclude the "expensive kids" such as those with special needs or any sort of learning disability...the very type publics are required to enroll. They often have no sports or music, etc. These charters are making a fortune for their owners, and that's the real reason they are being pushed.

Plus there's that troubling fact that a lot of charters are just terrible schools, often much worse than the public in the same community.

fastfeat • 13 years ago

"Compton" ;"trigger";"education".

One of these three does not play well with the others...

ysbaddaden • 13 years ago



fastfeat • 13 years ago

There's a banner on the front of a vacant business

(club? gun store?) in nearby Hawaiian Gardens (not the tropical paradise its name may suggest...). It reads:


(under new ownership)

Wonder why...

Rich H • 13 years ago

Hawaiian Gardens?

I'd suggest not hanging out there.

fastfeat • 13 years ago

I ride though it.

Fortunately, less than one square mile...